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Shoot the messenger

How to turn Windows Messenger applications off.

Windows XP has two different messengers. One is a service used to provide net send and Alerter services to users, while the second is the Windows Messenger application, which offers an instant-messaging service similar to AOL Instant Messenger. From the perspective of a network administrator, both have their utility, but nefarious characters can exploit both of them, or they can be otherwise bothersome. In each case you can turn off these two messengers, but you have to understand what you're giving up when you do so.

The Messenger service is the easier of the two to suppress. Simply select Services from the Administrative Tools folder found on the Programs menu; or alternatively right click on My Computer and select Manage to view the MMC, then Services and Applications, and finally Services. You can stop this service and disable it, but if you do so, any alert that depends on this service will not start. For example, should a print job fail, you will not see the alert. That's the down side. However, many hackers use the Messenger service to create Messenger popup windows that look like they are alerts to Spam you. You can get rid of many of these exploits using a good spyware detector such as SpyBot S&D, but the better solution is to install a Firewall, or upgrade, if you already have one.

Windows Messenger, on the other hand, is the instant messaging application whose icon in your System tray "pops up" when people show up in your "buddy list" in the system. This application does not work with AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). XP installs this application by default. Many organizations and people like and use this instant messaging application (which can work with Hotmail); but many not, and wish to turn it off. Whether you should or not is the subject of another tip, but if you want to deactivate it, you can check an article Microsoft has published in the Knowledge Base called "How to Prevent Windows Messenger from Running on a Windows XP-Based Computer" (302089) that describes how to create a policy to prevent Windows Messenger from running. Note that Windows Messenger cannot be uninstalled, as other programs such as Outlook depend on some of its services.

Here's now to disable Windows Messenger in XP Pro:

  1. Enter gpedit.msc in the Run dialog box to open the Group Policy Editor.
  2. Drill down to Windows Messenger (Local Computer Policy, Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, Windows Components,Windows Messenger.
  3. Double click on Do not allow Windows Messenger to run, then click Enabled.
  4. Click OK and close the GP snap-in.

The Messenger API will affect Outlook 2002, Outlook Express 6, and the Remote Assistance capabilities.

If you have remote users with XP Home (shudder), because that OS doesn't offer the GP editor, you, or your remote users) can turn this program off by opening Windows Messenger, selecting Options on the Tools menu, and then on the Preference tab clicking the "Run this program when Windows starts," checkbox to remove the check mark. These users can still start Windows Messenger, and the program may start when Outlook or Outlook Express runs. To prevent Outlook Express from launching the program, open the Options dialog box on the OE Tools menu, click on the General tab and disable the "Automatically log onto Windows Messenger" checkbox. In Outlook, that option is also found in the Options dialog box (Tools menu) but is located on the Other tab and is called "Enable Instant Messaging in Microsoft Outlook."

The Microsoft technical note also describes how to turn off Windows Messenger through the Registry. You may also want to view a discussion of this topic.

Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.

This was last published in October 2003

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